In this story there is a mirror, a secret viewpoint that lets our main character Johnny see who has entered the bar through the crooked front door, even as he remains slumped on his bar stool, smoking. The cracked stool, patched with blue contractor’s tape, wobbles a little. Or maybe it’s just him.
Over there at the far end of the bar are some husky women and burly men in t-shirts and blue jeans and Stacy the bartender, who never smiles. A scuffed floor, a jukebox, shots of whiskey, and bottled beer. Talk of sports and sports on the TV. Lottery numbers run like a fine line of lace along the bottom of the screen. Posters line the walls, a variety of cleavaged women holding beer bottles, grinning.
A bright light hangs above the pool table; the cues sprout mangy tips. On the small blackboard people often cheat their name onto the list of players up next. Johnny often plays, often wins, often impresses the ladies with his fine hips, with his bank shot, his faded jeans and workbooks. Jokes and back slaps pass around–it’s a kind of home.
But just like in a real home, a jagged line of energy runs underneath it all that never quite makes sense. Especially after Ray buys the bar a round because he’s feeling generous and Johnny refuses his free shot and Ray tells him to fuck off.
The scuffle that ensues gets a new regular named Frank thrown out the door headfirst. Johnny slinks back to the pinball machine with its shiny flippers and bright lights.
What no one sees is Johnny at home, away from the sweat and bump of the place. He’s in the kitchen, paging through a cookbook, then carefully measuring sugar, flour, and salt. He rubs butter into a crust, rolls it out, and preheats the oven. Later, with his rough hands shoved into oven mitts, he pulls free the pie with its cross-stitched top-crust. He slides it like a baby onto the cooling rack.
What no one sees is his eyes as they soften and he takes a long inhale of the pie’s steaming top.
No one knows about this. Or his mother who taught him. Or the fields of wildflowers he ran through as a kid. How Johnny picked the flowers and held them out to her, and she took them, hesitantly held him in her arms.
Sherrie Flick is the author of the novel Reconsidering Happiness and the short story collection Whiskey, Etc., a Foreword INDIES bronze prize winner. Her work has appeared in many journals and anthologies including Ploughshares, SmokeLong, Flash Fiction Forward and New Sudden Fiction. Autumn House Press will publish her new story collection in Fall 2018. She lives in Pittsburgh and serves as co-director of the Chautauqua Writers’ Festival.